Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Problem With Art Education

One of the biggest issues with art education in the schools is the need to actually look at art. Art by nature is a recording of events and emotions and images created within the context of a culture. What's acceptable to one culture is taboo in another. What's acceptable at one point in history is forbidden in another. That's the part of history that I thought everyone above the age of seven understood.

But I was wrong.

In a move reminiscent of the worst of the Nixon presidency, an elementary teacher with 28 years of service and experience is now on paid leave for the rest of the year, due to a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Now I realize that I am an art teacher and probably have had more exposure (no pun intended) to art than the average person. But I am pretty sure that even in the wilds of Frisco Texas, people are aware that in an art museum you may just see some "nekkid people". The actual term is "The Nude" and it's considered a viable genre within the categories of art history. The Greeks used the nude to symbolize the epitome of perfection and balance. The Renaissance artists used the nude to symbolize innocence or purity. Sure the nude has been made earthy and "dirty" as in "The Nude Maja" and let's don't forget those hefty dames painted by the likes of Rembrandt and Reubens. But in all honesty, do we really want to classify Bottecelli's "Venus" along with the likes of Paris Hilton? What drives art to be ART above and beyond the common reproach? And why is it that the good people of Frisco seem so ignorant of the differences?

I think it comes from two sources. First of all, within our society, and our schools, there is a movement afoot to compel schools to adhere to social behavior as ordained by specific religious teachings. I have no issue with morality. But I don't want someone coming to what is a public school and demanding that their personal religious needs be served over and above what is good for the general population. Secondly, I think some parent are so worried about child abuse that they literally see molestors around every corner. Too many parents are on campaigns to insulate their children from the rest of the world. They do more harm than good because these same over protected kids come into high school without the skills to operate in modern society. They either become the willing accomplices of the worst kids, or social outcasts due to being held back from developing the ability to deal with the world's problems by learning to avoid issues before they start.

What is the saddest part of this whole thing is that art is already under seige in our schools. Many elementary schools have cut music and art from the general curriculum ignoring how both art and music can provide positive reinforcement to academic classes. and concepts. It's no secret that many of the top students in schools are also in performing or visual arts. But as testing rises to become the be-all and end-all of the school's records, it's becoming a situation that chews up budgets leaving little for anything other than core classes and PE.

But in the end, it's this one teacher who ended up out of a job after 28 years. She did everything we teachers are told to do. She got approval, she got signed permission slips and she got parental chaperones. They didn't go to a bar. They didn't have an unhealthy lunch, but one kid went home and complained they saw a nude statue. And for that the teacher has lost her job. It make me wonder if they kid had gotten in trouble in her class and this was payback. It makes me wonder if the principal was looking for a way to trim the budget by getting rid of a higher cost experienced teacher. It makes me wonder if the principal was threatened by someone who was better liked. But in the end it makes me wonder at what point we lost all common sense and allowed the cranks and bigots to make decisions for us. Shouldn's a school board have more sense than to knuckle under to a loud mouthed parent? In the end this will go to court and be very nasty, if the news reports pan out. And with what I have seen as evidence, the teacher will end up on the winning end because she will have a much more lucrative retirement via the out of court settlement that will come about than she would with a TSR pension.

But down the road, when art is gone from the schools, who will teach the kids about beauty?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Voices From the Wilderness: Words from a convert to Islam

I got this from the Dallas Morning News, but I thought the information it gave was important enough to have it presented intact. It is the story of a Jewish man who converted to Islam only to get caught up in the Wahbism movement, the one that is promoting most of the violence we see on the evening news. What I found interesting was the way their indoctination techniques mirrored those of some of the vintage terror and communal groups of the 60's and 70's. You have your charismatic leader, your isolation from the rest of society, your strict set of rules, your abstemious lifestyle, it's all there straight out of so many different groups, although what comes first to mind is The Moonies. Scary stuff, but worth the read. This man is coming out with a book soon, and I plan to read it. The emphasis in the text is mine.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:
When I practiced Islam and went through my own process of radicalization, I found the case made by radicals (as opposed to the case made by progressive Muslims) to be more logical and sound. The logical force of the radicals' interpretation of the Islamic faith cannot be denied; anybody who brushes off Islamic radicals' interpretation of jihad as clearly and simply distorting Islam is either dissembling or else speaking from sincere ignorance. I don't think, though, that the radicals are inevitably right, and thus haven't yet given up the hope that Islam can save itself. One of my major long-term projects is an assessment of moderate Islam's chances of success. One of the Muslim moderates with whom I've been dialoguing for that project tells me that the Salafi interpretation seems insurmountable at first, but as a Muslim gains greater mastery of Arabic and is able to interpret Islamic history on his own, less radical alternative interpretations may seem more compelling. At this point, it's too early for me to assess whether this statement is accurate. But the fact that I don't think the radicals are inevitably right makes the current controversy over Pope Benedict's remarks all the more distressing.
It seems that whenever a prominent Westerner voices strong criticism of Islam, two things happen: Muslims threaten violence in response and often actually resort to it, and in return the Western media and leading intellectuals condemn the initial statements rather than the violence. Recall Jerry Falwell's statement back in 2002 that Muhammad was "a violent man"; the ironic -- and tragic -- response was
rioting in Solapur, India that killed at least ten people, as well as a fatwa condemning Falwell to death. Yet by and large the media wasn't interested in the Muslim overreaction; it was intent on condemning Falwell. The violent response to Pope Benedict's remarks is indicative of the pathologies within contemporary Islam. Angry Muslims set fire to seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza. An Italian nun in Somalia who worked in a children's hospital was brutally assassinated. There have been calls to assassinate the pope. And Islamic leaders such as Yusuf Qaradawi have called for a "day of rage."But it seems the media would rather condemn the pope and thus place criticism of Islam off limits rather than focus on the pathologies in contemporary Islam. This Western response serves to undermine Muslim moderates and strengthen radicals. It undermines moderates because one of the strongest big-picture arguments the moderates have is that Muslims need to act like adults, that they can't go off burning churches and killing people at the slightest provocation. Yet the signal we're sending is that we're willing to look the other way and create a ridiculous double-standard: that we're unwilling to hold Muslims accountable for unacceptable behavior and unacceptable actions. The extremists are helped not only by the missed opportunity to examine the crisis in contemporary Islam, but also because it increasingly appears to them that if they want to use threats of violence to stifle speech, they will be helped in their cause by hordes of guilt-ridden Westerners who will side with them. We live in cowardly times, and it's sad to see that so many Westerners pick the wrong side in what is a stark choice between free speech and intimidation